Well, I suppose it was coming. Sooner or later, I was bound to be underwhelmed by an episode, after the bar was set so high. Last week, I was convinced that all the pieces on the game board had been thrown into the air and we were going to see a complete overhaul. This week… they more or less fell right back into place. Time to figuratively crumple last week’s blog into a ball and toss it out of the window.
Of course, a lot of the players deserve kudos for that. I often say that it’s the little moves that win Survivor, and Rob, Vytas and Andrea covered this same topic on the podcast. Yet I feel what we have here is false advertising. This is Cagayan! Almost half the players in the game are ex-Luzon! Where is the insanity that your loyal fans expect—nay—deserve?
The Sorry Story of Superfan Spencer
Let us roll back the clock a few episodes to when Spencer found his immunity idol, and gave this confessional on how he might use it. He concludes that he must decide whether he’s playing to stay alive or to make a new dynamic in the game. At Tribal Council, he clearly telegraphed his choice: “I play the game to win the game. I would rather risk going out now for a shot at winning than extend my stay in the game.” (Quote taken from Michel’s analysis, as I’m too lazy to go back through the actual episode.)
It’s true to say that I’ve never been as excited about Spencer as most people. I feel that, between Malcolm and Cochran, we’ve seen his storyline a couple of times already in recent seasons, and the novelty has worn off for me. But even though I’ve found it hard to get invested in him as a character, I had faith in him. I believed him when he said he was going to make a big move. Then this week, he finally made use of his idol… to extend his stay in the game by three more days. (Damn you, Spencer. What price your game-life compared to our entertainment?)
I can’t knock Spencer for his move—playing it for Jeremiah would have been too big a gamble based on what they knew, yet I feel a little sorry for him. I’m sure he would have loved to pull a Malcolm, to do something big and flashy at Tribal Council with the idol. After all, while I doubt that Tony had any effect on Spencer when he threatened to play his own idol, (especially since Spencer knew they hadn’t vote for Tony anyway), Tony probably feels really good that he did it. That’s the kind of activity that fans of the show thrive on.
Spencer certainly could have taken a leaf out of Malcolm and Tony’s book. He was committed to playing that idol anyway, he’d already told his alliance about it, so there was no need to stay secret. Why not bring it out and put it around his neck in advance? The Dom and Colin podcast has theorized that you can cover two people with one idol that way. It’s so unlikely that the majority alliance will vote for the person who’s actually wearing the idol when there’s another available target. (Caramoan pulled it off, but the Three Amigos gave themselves away when they stated their target, and Phillip basically called for his alliance to gamble his life to save themselves.)
It would still have been a huge risk for Spencer to give the idol to Jeremiah afterwards, but he’d have tilted the odds in his favor, and after all, he said he would risk going out for a shot to win. He could also have flipped the situation around, put the idol in Jeremiah’s bag for him to produce and wear at Tribal Council—then Jeremiah returns it to him when it’s time to play it. Same scheme, but now it’s Jeremiah taking the risk.
It’s hindsight, but it could have worked, and in light of recent seasons, I think current players need to step up their game with idols. If you want to compete at the higher level, you should be doing something other than bringing it out for yourself when Jeff has the urn in hand.
Spencer has been great value in Tribal Councils all season, but this one was his weakest performance by far. Aside from the misplayed idol, he repeatedly looked flustered, and his insistence that they weren’t voting for Tony out of consideration for him, by extension, makes that vote for Woo a personal one. I certainly hope Spencer and Jeremiah put some effort into maintaining their working relationship with Tony rather than resting on the oars of their Jefra-plan, and perhaps that was what Spencer had in mind—even if that rather weakened his position on lecturing the opposition for doing whatever Tony told them.
At least his stand on Tony being in charge was a good one. It was sufficient to rattle Trish and Jefra, and although it was a long shot, perhaps he hoped that the women would send a vote or three Tony’s way. Even if that was unlikely to have saved Jeremiah, it would have given Tony a new target for next week.
More pertinently, it flattered Tony directly. Saying that Tony would have his vote as a juror is not logically the best incentive for him to keep Spencer (or Tasha), but on an emotional level, Tony should certainly be more inclined to work with him—it’s also begging for Tony to return the favor should their positions be reversed. Unfortunately, those positives may well have been negated by his accusation that Tony had broken promises. (Regardless of how true that is, Tony didn’t take kindly to it.)
However, it’s not all doom and gloom for Spencer going forward. After all, while Malcolm made the big moves, what did he have to show for it aside from a seat on the jury? Cochran hung in there, playing quietly and saying the right things—and maybe Cochran was a little jealous of Malcolm’s flair, but you have to assume that a million dollars takes away the sting.
Of course, the big difference between Cochran and Spencer is that Cochran was in the majority, and that’s when little moves pay off. In the minority, you need a major course adjustment to get onto that path to victory.
Scrambling by Half Measures
Despite my predictions last episode, it turns out that Jefra has some fire in her and she was the one calling out Tony when they got back to camp. Fresh from the shock of losing her closest ally, she was plunged into the reward where she not only got to enjoy a picnic with the minority away from her alliance, but she had a letter from home encouraging her to play the game at its most devious.
Tasha and Spencer gave her their pitch: Tony can’t be trusted; join us and get rid of him. In the heady atmosphere of the reward, the prospect of revenge and a big move dazzled Jefra into giving her word.
At this point, if Jeremiah’s interview is to be believed, the plan was to have no further contact with Jefra between the reward and Tribal Council. While it’s understandable that they didn’t want the opposition to know what had happened, the majority isn’t stupid. They knew Tasha and Co were going to talk to Jefra, so they were bound to go into reassure mode later.
Furthermore, once Jefra had come down from her emotions, it was obvious that the deal was a shockingly weak one. She might be nervous of her position in the majority, but she seemed guaranteed to finish in fourth by going with the underdog trio. Not to mention that by flipping she was forcing a tie and potentially drawing rocks. A baffled Spencer concluded that Tony must have worked some magic to get her to flip back, but Jefra didn’t need supernatural intervention so much as she needed time to think. There was no way the benefits outweighed the risks.
This is why I really hope Jeremiah had his wires crossed about not talking to her after the reward. They needed to keep with her and sweeten the deal. Spencer and Jeremiah could have told her they didn’t want to go up against Tasha at the end. Spencer could have told her he had an immunity idol which would gain them an outright majority—she didn’t even have to flip outright, she could just tell them who the majority was targeting and then flip the subsequent vote.
(NB Jefra’s flip would ultimately have failed, since her target was Tony who would have played his immunity idol resulting in a 0-0 tie and Spencer would have gone home on the re-vote, so it’s lucky he didn’t do this. But in ordinary circumstances it would have been worth a try for the minority. And even in these circumstances, it would have had the benefit of nullifying the special idol immediately—which really trumps all other considerations. Damn you, Spencer. Isn’t it worth sacrificing yourself for the integrity of the game you love?)
Unless there was something going on that we didn’t see, Jefra made absolutely the right call for herself. Yes, trusting Tony will always be a risk, but he blindsided Trish and Kass too. Technically, it’s Tony and Woo who have to regain the trust of the three women.
Yet Jefra committed a major mistake here by agreeing to the flip—she mitigated it by going back on her word, but she’s given false hope to the minority. (And potentially made Tony even more suspicious of her.) Just because it should have been obvious to Tasha, Spencer and Jeremiah why Jefra wasn’t sticking with them, that doesn’t mean they understand. Jefra told them she was making the move that served her best interests in the game, but Tasha stated she would respect that “if it were really true.”
She went on to say that Jefra’s alliance are piranhas and sharks, and Jefra would do better swimming in “our aquarium of nice fish.” That’s a self-righteous analogy, but it’s still their view. Similarly, at Ponderosa, Jeremiah declared that she was the second woman to screw up his game (after Kass): “What the heck? Why did she go back to Tony and them?”
To be fair, I’m not sure if Jefra really lost three votes by going back on her word, but she certainly made it a lot harder for herself to gain them.
Fortunately for Spencer and Tasha, they’re still going at full steam when it comes to immunity challenges—Tasha has the best individual performance of the season. (Though Spencer and Jeremiah are three for three on the reward challenges since the merge.) I wonder if this was the motivation behind their vote for Woo—we’ll assume they put some thought into it, since they had a fifty-fifty chance of bouncing somebody with the idol. Woo’s been their biggest challenge competitor. Get him out, and it’s more likely one of them can continue to win immunity.
While it’s not the worst reason in the world to target somebody, especially since they keep bringing him up as somebody who would be hard to beat at the end, getting Woo out isn’t going to shake up the game… For that, they should have targeted Trish. We know from this episode that they’re unaware of how much she’s responsible for her alliance, but that’s a vital realization they’ve completely missed. I’m honestly not sure how they haven’t noticed she’s the lynchpin between Kass, Jefra and Tony, just from watching the social interactions around camp.
(One explanation is that I’m wrong, and Trish isn’t the lynchpin, but it certainly doesn’t feel like Tony has a strong connection with Kass or Jefra that’s independent of Trish.)
Targeting Woo, yet again, was a move designed to extend their stay in the game rather than to create a situation that could give them some power. Is their best case scenario for whichever of them survives the next vote going on an immunity run to the end? It could happen, but this is a plan of an alliance that has given up, and thus I’m giving up on the idea of Tasha and Spencer making their big move in this game.
(Feel free to prove me wrong, you two. I would be totally fine with that.)
All Big Moves, All the Time
At least we can always count on Tony to be doing something, even if it’s not the vote this time around. Thank you, Tony, for building a second spy shack and for faking a fake idol.
On the podcast last week, Sophie theorized that Tony has to keep making big moves or everything will catch up with him and he’ll be voted out. This week, Tony had a confessional in which he subscribed to this theory: “If I don’t go running around doing all the crazy stuff I’ve been doing since day one, you guys probably wouldn’t be here! I wouldn’t be here! … Social part is big in Survivor but it’s not everything in Survivor.”
This is apparently in reaction to Trish lecturing him in the water before Tribal Council. While I can’t deny that Tony’s made at least ten times as many moves as Trish has, I don’t share his conviction that that is why they are both still in the game. One of the most effective things Tony did was to bring Sarah over to their minority, and she ended up being their pre-swap link to Woo. However, after the swap, it was Tony’s infamous “Top Five!” exclamation that deterred her from rejoining them post-merge. (To be fair to Tony, I think there’s a good chance Sarah would have been voted out pre-merge if he hadn’t made that remark, but equally, he failed to bring her back in afterwards.)
The main reason that the majority is the majority and not the jury is that Trish sat quietly in the shelter and noticed that Kass and Sarah were butting heads. In other words: her social game saved the day.
Tony keeps himself and us entertained with all his moves, but the majority of them have no effect and of those that do, almost as many have been detrimental as helpful. The spy shack by the well is wonderful in theory, but it brings back memories of Boo in Fiji, who also built a hideout behind the well for eavesdropping on strategy conversations—and while he was building it, the rest of the tribe were back at camp agreeing to vote him out. (Which was probably editing tweaks for all I know; I’m sure you’ll enlighten me in the comments.) The chances of Tony overhearing something useful are less than the chances of him missing something important while he’s going to the effort of constructing it.
Granted Tony did learn that Jefra didn’t trust him… although he should have drawn that conclusion after her discussion with him the previous night. I was a little dubious about where Tony was going to stand this week, but I have to give him credit that most of his alliance were willing to let him back into the fold and he was willing to bow to their strictures. He wasn’t happy with Trish telling him to cut out the double agent stuff, but he knew better than to push it.
Despite Tony’s recovery, it was still his blindside that set Jefra against him in the first place, and has potentially made him a minority within his own alliance. On the other hand, he got rid of LJ and destroyed a potential final three that excluded him: LJ, Jefra and Trish. Considering how easily Trish got over it, I’m inclined to think that she wasn’t going with that plan anyway, but if Tony was basing his actions on his read of LJ and Jefra, he was not wrong.
We’ll have to see what the long term effects of the move are, but I’ve come to the conclusion that my problem with it was the Morgan vote. If Tony was planning on backstabbing LJ early, he needed to whittle down the powerplayers on the minority alliance immediately. Yes, he was worried about the idol, but why not make Tasha Plan A and Morgan Plan B? Instead, immunity wins and idol paranoia have forced the majority into leaving Spencer and Tasha, the two smartest and most proactive players of the minority in the game.
Admittedly, the first two thousand words of this blog were devoted to how Spencer and Tasha have failed to do anything remotely effective, so perhaps I should give Tony a pass here. (Damn you, Spencer. Stop disproving my points.)
It’s not the Size of the Move; It’s what You Do with It that Counts.
While Tony’s still going full tilt, our other loose cannon is staying calm. I’m actually coming around on Kass’ flip now, mostly because she’s stayed so settled since doing it. We have this confessional from her this week where she said that nobody trusts her so she has to keep quiet and (somewhat regretfully) noted that Survivor is not about “Who can I screw this week?” Her plan is to get down to their five before she makes another big move—if she does.
We haven’t heard this level of comfort and patience from Kass since before the Tribal Swap and that alone makes me think that this is the right alliance for her. She’s not even at the bottom of the pecking order—she’s already outlasted LJ, and when the struggle between the five comes, it looks set to be a choice between Jefra or Tony for fifth place. (Despite her comment, Tony said he trusted her in the episode, and Woo said he’s comfortable with her.)
Whether she can get to the final three is another story altogether, but since LJ’s boot, the three women seem to be a natural choice for one finals scenario, with the three brawns making up another.
Of course, none of this makes up for the fact that her jury is absolutely convinced Kass made the wrong choice in flipping, and—worse—ruined their game. (Jeremiah listed her as the first woman who screwed his game, when she “turned her back” on them.) Again, it’s not necessarily logical of the jury to hold her accountable for preventing their win, but it’s a reaction we’re accustomed to in Survivor.
Kass could have waited until later, but she wouldn’t have had the numbers once Solana had lost a member, unless she was confident that she could have manipulated somebody else in her alliance, and, well… confidence in her alliance was what she was lacking entirely. We have to put the blame on her social skills here, that she couldn’t adapt to the new dynamic, but whether it’s age or something else, she’s settled in well with the opposition—how different might Kass’ game have been if the swap had put her on the same tribe as Trish?
If I’ve come round on Kass’ move, I’ve done the full 180 on Trish. I’ve been so dubious of her social skills, so convinced that she was going to let her temper get in the way of her game at some point, and yet she held it together beautifully after that blindside. While Tony spent the episode gathering his intel on Jefra not trusting him and fretting about it, Trish never batted an eye, and reeled Jefra firmly back in when it was time—with Kass’ assistance.
Kass’ involvement is important. I don’t know if it was deliberate on either woman’s part, but having the two of them work together to reassure Jefra reinforces the idea that they still have the numbers advantage. Jefra might panic about Tony, but she’s in the same boat as Kass and Trish and those two women pointedly took her side against the cop. As the Know It Alls so nicely put it, Trish essentially turned Tony over her knee and gave him a spanking. Tony didn’t like this public humiliation, but his confessional didn’t suggest he’s seeking retribution.
Trish has got her alliance well in line, but I have two major concerns. (Not including how close she came to having Woo kill himself on her watch.) Firstly was her comment in the water about how it was easier for the women to beat Tony and Woo. That’s only true in the finals, and if either Tony or Woo are in the finals, one of the women won’t be. Between her alliance of five, Trish is in the position where you’d expect her to be in everyone’s final three, but her comment makes me think she’s aiming for a Brawn final.
Neither Jefra nor Kass seemed to pick up on her slip, but Kass also commented that it was worth keeping the annoying people around. Does this mean Kass is considering a finals scenario with Tony? If that’s so, then we have to wonder if she thinks Trish is too big of a threat to win.
In any event, if Trish keeps dropping hints that she’s sticking by her original tribemates, we know Kass isn’t going to go down without a fight—we also know that Trish will give her one. Of all the players, it’s perhaps these two women who have best balanced the big and little moves. Both of them can rest comfortable that they’ve pulled off the coup of their superfan dreams: all that remains now is to fine-tune their gameplan to the million.
Yeah, about that….
Who will Dazzle the Jury?
All plans might change after Tribal Council, since Spencer and Tasha asserted that Tony would get their vote at the end. While I don’t think that Spencer and Tasha respect Tony’s game particularly, they’re sufficiently distracted by his bustling moves to overlook what is actually happening in the alliance. Trish’s quiet, effective game deserves the win, but it won’t happen against Tony—perhaps not even against the chipper, likeable Woo. When Tasha listed off the players that can’t be beaten on the opposing alliance, it was Tony then Woo with Trish trailing in as a “maybe even” addition.
So I have to flip around what I said last week. I still think Sarah would vote for Trish, and perhaps Kass and Jefra would too. But Spencer, Jeremiah and Tasha would all vote for Tony. LJ could go either way and it depends on who would be influencing Morgan. Trish’s rebuttal that she had told Tony to stop what he was doing was completely true, but it came across as defensive and hollow. If Tony gets to the end, the jury will be inclined to think that he brought Trish, not the other way around.
Jefra and Kass should have the same concerns. I assume Jefra’s intending to go to the end with the other women anyway at this point, but it sounded like Kass was inclined to keep Tony around for a goat, and she had that cryptic implication in confessional last week that the women were the real threats in this game. Realistically, what Kass needs to do is get to the end with Jefra and Woo. She’ll have a hard time combating Woo’s appeal, but she should be able to talk strategic circles around both of them. Kass has at least got a big move to her name—not to mention her correct identification of Spencer as the idol-holder.
Speaking of idols, Tony’s disclaimer “This is a fake idol,” rang even less true than Trish’s insistence that she was telling Tony what to do. Everybody’s going to believe he has a real one, and they’re going to want to know what the special powers are. (Still unsolved: the mystery of how the players knew there were two idols out there instead of just one. In keeping with the theme of this blog, I shall hold Spencer responsible. Damn you, Spencer.)
Based on historical precedent, Tony should tell them. Nobody bothered to vote for Terry or Yul because they knew it was a waste of their votes. (I believe the Raro minority tried to sway the Aitu four into voting for Yul alongside them, just to flush the idol, but nobody ever went for it.) Tony’s idol is at least less powerful than its original incarnation as it cannot be transferred, and in absence of any conflicting information, I shall assume that it follows the modern idol expiry date of final five rather than final four.
Tony has not been a contender in immunity challenges, so it’s reasonably safe for the others to let him hang around until final four. Revealing the nature of his idol should give him a free pass to that point.
The exception here is if anybody sees it as a challenge—and I’m particularly looking at Kass who has a bit of a thing for flushing idols and who has (albeit in a different context) uttered the line: “No one in this game should have that much power.” If Kass wants to arrange a blindside of Tony, she can put her vote and Jefra’s with the minority. Tony would be forced to play his idol and, in theory, Spencer or Tasha would still go home. In other words, the game could continue exactly as Kass wants it to, but without Tony having that over-powered idol.
In one respect, this would be awesome since it would completely negate the effect of the idol on the season. There’s a chance somebody else would find it at final six, but then they’re only getting a free ride for two Tribal Councils instead of four. As a viewer, I fully endorse this strategy from Kass or anybody else.
The downside is the potential for it to go horribly wrong. What if Tony decides he’s making another big move at final seven and targets Jefra who came so close to flipping? Tasha and Spencer will support his scheme, since it doesn’t include them going home. Kass and Jefra’s Tony votes will ensure Jefra gets the boot while Kass becomes Tony’s next target—and Tony still has his idol. (Damn you, Spencer.)
Or what if the idol is flushed, but the last of the minority finds it? Tasha’s due for an immunity loss, so say they take the chance to send her home on Wednesday night and to flush the idol. The idol will be rehidden, and Spencer is bound to look for it. What havoc will be wreaked among the majority if the only outcast found it? How do you arrange a split vote when you’re reassuring everybody they’re not at the bottom?
Ultimately, the safest option for the players is to let Tony hang around until final four. But as a viewer, I kind of hope they throw caution to the winds and go for it. It’s not totally without a game advantage. Nobody ever had the nerve/imprudence to flush Yul and Terry’s idols. Flushing Tony’s would be the biggest of the big moves, and that’s worth selling to the jury.